By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Sunday 14th July 2019
Some Christians ask others whether they are saved. If the person says they don’t know, then they are told that all they have to do is say a particular prayer and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour. That is good, but salvation is a continuing process. To paraphrase St Paul we can say that I am saved, I am being saved and I will be saved.
In today’s first reading, God’s people are reminded that although they are in exile, they are never beyond the rule of God. What he asks of us is that we love him with our heart and soul. It is living our lives with a ‘longing’ for God and a longing to be close to him. This enables us to live our faith in him in whatever circumstances we might be in, which is eternal life.
It was a lawyer who asked Jesus the question about what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus didn’t answer the question but referred the lawyer to the law of Moses. The lawyer answers his own question by saying that to inherit eternal life is to love God and one’s neighbour in the same way that we love ourselves. But the lawyer doesn’t leave it there but asks Jesus to identify who is the neighbour that faithful Jews should love. Again Jesus doesn’t answer but tells the story of the Jew left for dead by thieves and a Good Samaritan.
In this story there was nothing unusual in Jewish eyes with the behaviour of the priest and the Levite. People today still walk past those in need on the streets even in so called civilised societies, but at least the priest and Levite believed that the victim’s misfortune was a punishment from God for his sinfulness, and it was not their place to interfere with God’s will. It was the Samaritan who was the rescuer, and he was one of the un-mentionable, heretical, untouchable, impossible people that Jews had no dealings with.
After telling the story Jesus asked his hearers which one was a true neighbour to the victim. The answer was the one who showed mercy on him. Yet we need to be careful that we don’t leave it there and think that neighbourliness equates to the strong helping the weak, the rich helping the poor and so on. Such things are good, but they contain the seeds of patronage and condescension that can easily become pride. The parable tells us that the one we must love is not the one we can help, but the person who can help us, especially if that person is one we dislike.
In this story, the Samaritan helped someone who hated him, but the injured Jew allowed himself to be helped by someone he hated. The parable is about humility as much as it is about charity.
Eternal life can be lived by all here and now in this life. It has been made possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus who is the image of the unseen God. Eternal life is available to those who love Jesus and are committed to following his way through living in harmony with God and loving others in the way that Jesus loves us and we love ourselves.
Loving is not only praying for and desiring the good of the one who is loved. It is working for that good, and what greater good is there than the salvation of the one who is loved?
What must we do to inherit eternal life? It isn’t so much ‘doing’ as ‘being’. If our relationship with God is right, then how we live what we do will be right. Long for God and his will, love him and others with a generous heart, but also allow oneself to be loved and helped by those we find it difficult to like.
To long or not to long for God is the question.
To be or not to be is the answer.
Monsignor Entwistle was the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.